Straight from the fields

Stemilt Growers — Building a Brand

hen it comes to selling a product, the brand identity is more than just the packaging. That is what Roger Pepperl, Marketing Director for Stemilt, impresses upon me as we dig into the seed that grew into the company’s Lil Snappers® program. Roger brings experience and understanding of the produce department from the retail perspective, having worked as a produce buyer at Meijer for 21 years. After joining the Stemilt team and looking to the difficulties the retail-side faced when selling small-sized fruits, he and the team found a solution in the building of a brand: Lil Snappers®.

“We had a fair amount of small fruit, and I wondered how we could make it more glamorous, more targeted, and make it more valuable to both the retailer and grower,” Roger shares with mewhen I ask about the thought process that initiated the beginnings of today’s Lil Snappers®.

So what does it take to build a brand? Roger and his co-pilot, Communications Manager Brianna Shales, took the time to enlighten me.

When it came to kick-starting what has become one of Stemilt’s most successful programs and a recognizable brand in produce, Roger explains to me that at the ground level it was about finding the right target to aim for.

“Too often in produce we try to market to everybody,” Roger says. “We have a lot of different demographics eating this product, but if you market to everybody you market to nobody.”

So the name, the images, even the fruit, are choices made with a child’s palate and serving size in mind. “We purposely include specific fruits with flavors that will entice children 

to choose produce over sugary snacks,” Brianna explains. “Each variety in Lil Snappers® is picked with the intention of treating children’s palates.”

 

While it is important to have a key target audience, Roger and Brianna both emphasize walking the line in terms of not excluding any customer demographic: you never know who might find your product perfect for them. 

“The package is very clear about who the program is marketed to, including the parents that are shopping and the kids that are eating our fruit. But, our audience extends beyond that,” Brianna says. “Before Lil Snappers® came out, many didn’t understand that we’ve always grown small fruit. Now, people are flocking to this item. It brought opportunity to the category, and now Lil Snappers® is a product people are seeking out.”

With that in mind, Roger explains that all ages purchase and enjoy Lil Snappers® for a variety of reasons, adding another goal to the image of the brand. “The graphics are important in that they are fun and colorful, but not juvenile,” Roger adds, explaining that the images serve to reach the chosen child and parent audience, but doesn’t exclude any age group.

And the result is a win for all sides of the industry, from the root to the register, and beyond.

 

If there is anything Roger and Brianna impress upon me in the early, and even mid, days of the Lil Snappers® program, it’s that trials are an inevitability in pioneering a brand.

“The majority of packs we offer are 3 lb-units, an important distinction because we felt we could raise the value of the package but also keep the purchase size up,” Roger explains.

In a retail world where the majority of pouch bags are 2 lb, the packaging behind what has made Lil Snappers® possible was built from the ground up. With that, Roger and Brianna share, came a few mistrials and mishaps that the company was able to learn and grow from, inevitably coming out with a stronger, better brand to bring to market.

“We don’t want to encourage less consumption of produce, so this bag helps us help retailers keep their tonnage up, as well as keeping up volume and dollars,” Roger says. This, he explains, means a double win for retailers as well as consumers. “We found in studies that a 2 lb bag in general diminishes category results. If we send them home with less than three pounds we have not done our job.”

In the end, you have a bag where neither fashion nor function were compromised, offering a convenient and attractive packaging option in-store.  

 

“Here’s a sticky situation you never knew was so sticky!” Roger laughs as he tells me the hoops you have to go through in looking for the brand you hope to grow into a household name.

Not only did the team have to think up the perfect name, it had to be available. “You would be surprised what you have to go through in terms of legality to name a product,” Roger says.

And then there was the message. “We wanted to create something with a name that could be fun and would easily roll off the tongue, but that was also not limited to one product,” Roger tells me, adding that the word “snappers” not only inspires the quick and fun sound of a snap, but also the sound of fresh. And it’s a good thing he and the rest of the team thought to keep the product open, now that the line has extended far beyond just petite, flavorful apples.

 

One thing we really did right is that we spent a lot of time with our sales team, educating them on why we are doing this and helping them with the launch,” Roger states emphatically when we talk about the behind-the-scenes of building the Lil Snappers® brand. “Our sales team is the best, and integrating sales with marketing is key to the success of any new product.” 

Brianna shares that a lot of time went into integrating and educating the team. After all, you are more likely to successfully push a product that you yourself are passionate about.

And that passion has now expanded past the professional team into the local communities where the product is sold, Brianna explains.

“Promoting within the local communities where Lil Snappers® are sold has also been key. Lil Snappers® has been the featured snack at The Little Gym locations in metropolitan areas, which gets the product right into the fridge so that kids know what to ask for in the store,” Brianna says of some of what has helped to build the name. “Tying the product, too, with local schools and giving back while educating kids about nutrition has been another successful strategy to put the brand in the users’ hands and informing parents about the availability in the market.”

It also serves as a win for the orchard, I learned, in addition to the marketing, retailer, and consumer sides.

“Growers are asking if they can grow more small pears for this brand,” Brianna laughs. “Retailers also experience sales and volume growth because of Lil Snappers® ability to market intent to their shoppers, and today’s busy parents seeking healthy snacks for their kids."

But while it can be better for growers, smaller sizing in fruits was traditionally less desired on the buy-side. Lil Snappers® gave a solution to that common hiccup in retail, Roger says, giving the buy-side a way to maximize their dollars with smaller fruit, and helping Stemilt boost demand.

This, in turn, has bolstered loyalty in Stemilt’s in-house operations, with growers, sales people, production… everyone in line to help promote the brand that the company created to help feed their families healthier food that would be easily accepted and desired.

After all, Lil Snappers® is not just the little apples, pears, and citrus. It’s also the bag, the design, the name, and the people involved.

 

In 2012, Stemilt teamed up with Sunkist, growing the Lil Snappers® brand in both product mix and reach.

“It all comes back to building and strengthening a brand,” Roger tells me when I ask how Sunkist was brought on. “This partnership was a way for Lil Snappers® to extend across the department with two large reputable and innovative brands that still had tight control. It gave us more exposure, more credibility, and this is also something a little different than what we’ve seen in produce.”

It’s safe to say that the Lil Snappers® brand has skyrocketed: As of 2016, year over year volume for the apple brand is up 131.1 percent, dollars are up 123 percent, and distribution points (total weeks available in unique store count) are up 194 percent. 

“Everything got bigger,” Roger says. Clients, participants, and partners have all seen noted growth since the story and the brand have gained traction in the market.

So what’s next? Now, Stemilt is looking to bring organic apples and pears into the mix, adding yet another rapidly-rising trend to Lil Snappers® evolving program and expanding reach.

It’s safe to say that, while it may look like the top of the mountain for this fresh produce brand, this is just the beginning.